Aine at Summer’s End

October 26, 2012

European goddesses often have both an animal and a bird form. Can you guess why Aine’s bird form would be a swan?

Cold and flu season is upon us, and herbalists are writing about garlic, echinacea, mullein, honey, and a host of other beneficial plants. Irish herbalists saw the blessing of the goddess Aine (pronounced ON-ya) as a necessary catalyst in these herbal concoctions. Aine is a fire goddess whose spark makes its circuit throughout the body commencing with every sunrise. Aine often takes the form of a red mare, as in Celtic lore horses are equated with the sun. At Midsummer Aine’s protection for livestock would be invoked by waving torches over animals.

Probably due to her fiery nature, Aine appears in stories as a lustful woman with many lovers. She bore many children, and Irish rulers often traced their family lineage to her. She is said to have a stone birthing chair cut into the side of a mountain. Those who sit in this chair become insane, and the insanity is permanent if they repeat this procedure three times. But insanity can also be cured by sitting on Aine’s chair, so perhaps no lapse of sanity is incurable.

Like many healing goddesses, Aine has a wrathful side. In one legend she curses her rapist by sucking the skin off his ear and depriving him of his possessions. My guess would be that this is based on an older story related to a broken taboo at Samhain (Halloween). Aine also had a legendary father who was cruel to her. After her escape she became a spinner of sunbeams in the forest (another allusion to her origin as sun goddess) where she tutored wives in the art of slowly debilitating their husbands through herbal interventions. I’m guessing that the debilitated husband story refers to the aging process measured by the movement of the sun, as well as Aine’s role as teacher of herbology.

Aine is believed to be the same goddess as Anu, about which little is known aside from her prehistoric monument of twin hills capped with cairns to look like nipples. She has also been equated with Danu, the legendary mother of the Irish gods, which would explain why so many rulers sought to legitimize their reign by claiming to be her descendents.


Sources

Celtic Mythology. New Lanark, Scotland: Geddes and Grosset, 1999.

Matthews, Caitlin and John Matthews. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom. Shaftesbury, UK: Element Books, 1994.

Matthews, John and Caitlin Matthews. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Myth and Legend. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2004.

Monaghan, Patricia. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. New York: Checkmark Books, 2008.

Neith and the Acacia Tree

October 20, 2012

Acacia trees in Morocco. Photo L. Mahin.

Our tree goddess this week is the goddess Neith (Neit), and her tree is the acacia. The acacia is a small scrawny tree with tiny leaves and pronounced thorns. It has a long fibrous seedpod that is attractive to animals and is often used as fodder for cattle. There are over a thousand trees with the common name acacia, and they grow all over the world in arid climates. One species in northern Africa, probably the tree of Neith, is the Vachellia nilotica, also called the Egyptian thorn or the gum arabic tree. The ancient Egyptians used the very hard wood of this acacia for making tools. The sap, called gum arabic in its powdered form, was used for incense, perfume, cosmetics, glue, pigment binder, and embalming. Gum arabic from a related acacia native to sub Sahara Africa is still used for a variety of commercial purposes, especially the manufacture of candy.

Probably the most important quality of the acacia is its globular, fragrant yellow flowers, which draw quantities of bees. Honey has been a vital food going back to the hunter/gatherer tribes of Paleolithic times. When Egypt adopted a grain-based diet, honey remained important not only as a food of pleasure but as a catalyst in bread rising and fermentation. In the complex Egyptian economy that nonetheless had not developed a metal currency, honey was a medium for paying taxes. Not only was it valuable, but it kept well. Honey was a staple food offering to the gods.
Parakeet feeding on acacia pod. Hyderbad, India. Photo J.M. Garg.


The symbol for Neith is the bee, and the bee hieroglyph can mean Neith, Lower (northern) Egypt, or the ruler of Lower Egypt, depending on the context. Neith is the oldest of the Egyptian gods, the mother of all the gods. It was she who emerged first from the amorphous primeval waters, and she who created the first mound of earth to rest upon. The round yellow flowers on her sacred tree reflect her position as mother of the sun, as does the sun-loving bee. Like many sun goddesses, she is the goddess of weaving, which is why the Greeks associated her with Athena. Neith gave the Egyptians the bandages used to wrap the deceased, and gum from her tree was the adhesive holding the bandages. Acacia resin was one of many substances used as an embalming preservative.

Aegis of Neith. 600 BCE. Photo Rama.
Unlike many creator gods, Neith did not create the world and retreat, but could be relied upon for continued gifts and sustenance. The gods drew on her wisdom in times of crisis, appealing to her for counsel through written messages, which Neith responded to with letters of her own.

In historical times Neith gained prominence as her city Sais rose in influence during the seventh century BCE, but Neith was probably worshiped in Lower Egypt long before dynasties or agriculture, when people still hunted for food. The crossed arrows on her crown probably originated as a hunting emblem, and may also relate to the defensive stinger of the bee and the defensive thorns on the acacia.

Primarily Neith is a goddess of sustenance, engaged in the perpetual creation of life. Out of just one tree she created incense, perfume, wood for implements, seedpods for cattle, pigment binder for ink and paint, materials for embalming and food for bees, not to mention welcome shade in a hot dry climate.


Sources

Barrett, Clive. The Egyptian Gods and Goddesses: The mythology and beliefs of ancient Egypt. London: Diamond Books, 1996.

Clark, R.T. Rundle. Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt. London: Thames and Hudson, 1959.
Acacia flowers. Photo Phillipe Birnbaum.


Jay, Lisa and Nessi Domizlaff. Ancient Egyptian Art: The Relationships Among Binders, Pigments and Surfaces, 2005.

Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry, Vol. 11, No. 2. REVIEW ON THE MATERIALS USED DURING MUMMIFICATION PROCESSES IN ANCIENT EGYPT, 2011.

Wilson, Hilary. Egyptian Food and Drink. Buckinghamshire, UK: Shire Egyptology, 2001.

Review ~ Grandmother Moon: Lunar Magic in Our Lives, by Zsuzsanna E. Budapest

October 12, 2012


Grandmother Moon recently became available again through Amazon Createspace. The book is a collection of goddess lore based on the lunar calendar, a wheel corresponding to the zodiac sign for each lunation. There are thirteen sections or “lunations,” each starting with basic information about the moon followed by a contemplation about a goddess associated with this moon energy. There is information about the emotional side of the moon, auspicious activities, a few spells, and descriptions of lunar holidays. The lunar holidays are usually not European but Middle Eastern, Chinese, East Indian, Native American or Mesoamerican. Z explains, “This was my intention because these cultures have preserved their lunar calendars to this day.”

Looking at the section for the upcoming new moon in Libra, October 13–15, Grandmother Moon categorizes it as the “Blood Moon.” Its herb is oatstraw and its animal is the cat. The goddess is the Egyptian overseer of truth and justice, Maat — not surprising since the symbol for Libra is the scale. This is a good time to fall in love and to decorate the home, and the energies of pleasure dominate. In keeping with this, Z offers a spell for physical pleasure. The festivals for this moon highlight the difficulties of incorporating an array of lunar calendars in a solar framework. The Jewish festival of Rosh Hashanah occurred at the last new moon and the Hindu festival of Diwali will occur next month. The full moon festivals occurred the end of September. We’ll have to look ahead to the Mourning Moon on October 29th and the festival of Oschophoria, when the full moon in Taurus will celebrate the ecstatic Greek God of the grapes, Dionysus. Sounds like a wonderful time for a party.

Grandmother Moon is easy to pick up and put away, skim through and read out of order. It seems tailor-made for busy schedules and short attention spans. It has an index, which is helpful. The rituals, which appropriately focus on the emotions, can be done solo. It’s a great book for developing an understanding of moon energies.